Pucker Up: The Kissing Booth 3 Is Coming Your Way

Prepare those kissers and ready your lip gloss, because a new installment of The Kissing Booth is coming your way — and sooner than you might’ve guessed.

Just days following the premiere of The Kissing Booth 2 on Friday (July 24), Netflix announced the coming release of a third movie in the wildly popular franchise. During Netflix’s #TKBFanFest YouTube livestream on Sunday (July 25), the series’ primary cast — Joey King, Joel Courtney, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Maisie Richardson, and Meganne Young — confirmed they are to return in the new installment, set to launch next year.

While many film and TV productions have been slowed, if not halted altogether, due to the ongoing coronavirus, The Kissing Booth 3 has already wrapped, having apparently been filmed, quietly, at the same time as its predecessor. Courtney, who plays best friend to Elle, revealed that the movie is now in post-production, to which King added that filming the movies simultaneously “was the hardest secret to keep ever.”

The announcement was followed by a teaser trailer released by Netflix the same day. Where the second movie ended on a cliffhanger, with Elle grappling with her decision of which college to choose, the short clip hints that this will be addressed in the third entry. Lee is seen poolside with Noah, with Rachel (Young) serving up cocktails, when she receives a call from Harvard. Check out the teaser, below.

Why governments are paying people to go on holiday

VENETIANS HAVE long complained that a surfeit of tourists has turned their city into a historical Disneyland. As if to prove them right, in 2018 the city council erected turnstiles to control the 40m or so holidaymakers swarming in every year. In 2019 “La Serenissima” went a step further and announced plans to charge visitors coming through those gates up to €10 ($11.50) a day.

Now Venice’s problem is not too many tourists, but too few. The covid-19 pandemic has caused a collapse in international travel. The OECD, an intergovernmental think-tank, forecasts that international tourism will fall by 60% globally in 2020 and by up to 80% if second waves of the pandemic delay economic recovery. So several governments, including Italy’s, are trying a radical new method of reviving their tourism industries: paying subsidies directly to holidaymakers. But with a recent spike in covid-19 across European tourism hotspots, increasing the risk of suddenly imposed quarantine rules that could wreck holidays, doubts are growing as to whether this is a sensible way to splurge taxpayers’ money.

Governments have long sought to help the industry indirectly, with handouts for airlines, subsidies for airports and other infrastructure, or lower value-added tax (VAT) rates for hotels and restaurants. Handing visitors cash or spending vouchers is a new departure for most, but the idea has caught on rapidly.

In June Italy unveiled a “holiday bonus” scheme costing €2.4bn, under which Italian families on low incomes receive up to €500 towards domestic holidays. To lure both foreigners and mainlanders, Sicily’s regional government recently approved spending €75m on vouchers, redeemable for accommodation, guided tours, museum tickets and more. Voucher schemes are also being implemented in Iceland, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand. Tackling wary travellers’ fears head-on, Cyprus has promised to meet the quarantine, health-care and holiday costs of any visitor who contracts the virus. And perhaps most ambitious and costly of all is Japan’s “Go To Travel”, which was launched on July 22nd. The government will pay for discounts of up to half the cost of trips within the country, reimbursing hotels and travel agents at a potential expense of ¥1.3trn ($12.6bn).

It is easy to see why politicians want to prop up the tourist trade. It is a big employer. Over the past five years, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, an industry body, the sector created one in four net new jobs globally. Tiffany Misrahi of the WTTC calculates that if international travel falls by half this year, 121m jobs will be lost and global output worth $3.4trn forgone. Politicians may also think that subsidies for domestic tourism will be popular with voters jaded after months of lockdown.

Why are tourist subsidies suddenly so popular? Politicians have not abandoned old policies entirely. They are finding billions to stop ailing airlines going bust, but that will do nothing to stimulate demand. And although VAT cuts have been used to pep up the industry in past downturns, these are now regarded as “a blunt tool”, notes Jane Stacey of the OECD. When Britain cut VAT economy-wide in 2008, for instance, much of the stimulus quickly leaked out of the economy, as imports were boosted by more than activity at home. Aiming VAT cuts precisely at tourist spending is difficult. With vouchers, that is easier to do. The Resolution Foundation, a British think-tank, argues that their terms can be changed to help an area or sector in particular need of speedy help.

Despite their apparent political appeal, the subsidies are not proving universally popular. Some see them as unfair: wealthier folk are likelier than poorer ones to be able to take time off work and to have spare cash for holidays. To avoid subsidising the rich, schemes’ eligibility can be limited. In Italy, only households with incomes of under €40,000 a year qualify. In South Korea the government is paying extra “vacation bonuses” to employees of small firms who take time off.

Some intended beneficiaries oppose the schemes, too, fearing that travellers could bring covid-19 to remote tourist spots hitherto little affected by the disease. “Go To Travel” is especially unpopular. In a poll for Nikkei Asian Review, a Japanese newspaper, published on July 20th, 80% of respondents said it was “too early” to launch the policy; only 15% said it was “appropriate”. Residents of Tokyo, where infections have risen in recent weeks, were excluded from the scheme at the last moment to calm country-dwellers’ worries of being overrun by coronavirus-carrying staycationers.

If the politics of holiday handouts are not clear-cut, nor are the economics. Many people who are staying at home can doubtless afford a trip. Household savings have been rising rapidly in both America and Europe, as people have spent less on commuting and eating out. Lower prices, and even state handouts, may not tempt them to venture out on holiday. They may fear catching the virus while travelling (even in Cyprus). And they are increasingly worried about getting stuck abroad in renewed lockdowns or unexpected quarantines on their return. British holidaymakers in Spain, for instance, received just five hours notice on July 25th that they will need to self-isolate for 14 days when they arrive home. Compounding these problems, it is still difficult to buy travel insurance that covers covid-19.

And vouchers or no vouchers, some over-visited cities are wondering whether they really want all the tourists back. “This is the moment to consider other alternatives,” declares Paolo Costa, a former mayor of Venice and president of the city’s port authority. Jobs in tourism tend to be low-skilled, poorly paid and seasonal. Developing a tech cluster from the universities that Venice hosts, or developing its port as a trans-shipment hub between central Europe and the Far East, could produce better, more stable employment. But obtaining seed money for this from the central government is harder than getting yet more subsidies for tourism. Why? “The tourism lobby is bigger than the Venice lobby group,” Mr Costa sighs.

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

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The pandemic shows the urgency of reforming care for the elderly

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

“IT SMELLED LIKE death,” says Stephanie (not her real name) of her first day at Camilla Care Community, a nursing home in Mississauga, a city in Canada. She and other care workers were sent to help out at the 236-bed facility in April as covid-19 ripped through its narrow corridors and crowded wards. Dozens of staff fell ill or refused to work. By mid-July nearly one-third of the residents had died. Outside, on a patch of grass, 69 small white crosses commemorate them.

Across the rich world nearly half of all deaths from covid-19 have happened in care and nursing homes, even though less than 1% of people live in them. In Canada 80% of all the deaths from covid-19 have happened in places such as Camilla (see chart 1). In Britain the pathogen has killed an estimated 5% of all people living in such institutions. The problem is not only that the residents’ age makes them particularly vulnerable, but also that their living arrangements created opportunities for the virus to spread. Countries with fewer care homes have had fewer covid-19 deaths, all else being equal. The number of care-home beds explains 28% of the variation in death rates among European countries and 16% among American states, according to a study by Neil Gandal and colleagues at Tel Aviv University.

Politicians are under pressure to put more cash into care-home safety, inspections and quality standards. In the short term care homes will need more personal protective equipment (PPE) and better access to testing. But the disaster also offers a chance to reimagine care. In the future, many experts argue, the vast majority of old people should be looked after at home for as long as possible. In all but the most severe cases this is cheaper. It is also what most old people want. Putting them in big institutions is the opposite of what they say they value most: autonomy and independence. And for those who still need it, residential care should be transformed.

Most people will need care as they age. In some countries that will bankrupt them. Some 70% of Americans who reach the age of 65 will eventually need help doing at least two basic daily activities, such as washing or dressing; 48% will receive paid care; 16% will get dementia. The risks are higher for women. For one in ten people who reach the age of 65 in Britain, the cost of care in their remaining years will exceed £100,000 ($127,000), according to a review conducted in 2011. Demand is only growing. In rich countries the share of the population that is over 80 will double by 2050, by which time there will be only two people of working age for every over-65-year-old. Although people’s lives are getting longer, the number of years during which they enjoy good health is not rising as swiftly.

In countries such as Norway and Sweden, care for the elderly is pretty good but costs taxpayers so much that it may not be sustainable as their populations age. In others, such as Britain and America, taxpayer-financed care is intended as a last resort for the poorest and sickest. This usually means a bed in a care home. These institutions have typically received most of the funding that governments set aside for looking after the elderly.

“Let’s be honest,” says David Grabowski of Harvard Medical School. Even before the pandemic “nobody ever wanted to go to a nursing home. This was a crisis on top of a long-standing crisis.” The sector is understaffed. In several countries it is unhelpfully detached from the health system. Care homes were “at the back of the queue during covid, when it came to things like testing,” says Jos Schols at the University of Maastricht. In places such as Hong Kong and Taiwan that experienced the SARS outbreak of 2002-03 care homes had stockpiles of PPE. In other places they were very poorly supplied. People working in British care homes say the pandemic has confirmed their “Cinderella status”. They were about twice as likely to die of covid-19 as workers in hospitals. “Everyone is furious about what happened but too knackered to do anything about it,” says one carer.

All around the world staff at care homes turn over quickly. In Germany nearly a third of long-term-care workers leave their jobs after only one year. In France a fifth of home-care positions were vacant in 2018. That is not surprising given that carers are paid on average 35% less than people who do similar jobs in hospitals, according to the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries. Receiving care from a rotating cast of strangers is bad for everyone, but it is a particular problem for people with dementia. They make up the majority of care-home residents but mostly do not live in institutions that specialise in their condition. At the height of the outbreak in London more than one-quarter of staff in care homes for the elderly could not work, or would not. Officials sent in temporary workers to replace them. That probably spread the virus even further.

Age is just a number

Many governments spend very little on long-term care. In rich countries it ranges from 0.2% of GDP in Hungary to 3.7% in the Netherlands. Canada spends 1.3%, less than the rich-country average. It has less than half the number of care-home workers per 100 residents as Norway. In America and Britain a frugal monopsony payer (Medicaid and local authorities) typically reimburses less than the cost of residential care. To make up the shortfall, American nursing homes actively recruit patients covered by Medicare, a lavish programme that pays medical costs (but not long-term care costs) for the elderly. They tend to come for short stays to recover after operations such as hip replacements, and bring with them more generous reimbursements. But the pandemic has largely stopped that.

As well as exposing fragile business models, the pandemic has highlighted the tension between keeping old people safe and keeping them happy and well, says Adam Gordon of the University of Nottingham. Regulators encourage nursing homes to focus relentlessly on negative metrics such as falls, bed sores and weight loss. But there is more to quality of life than not falling over. Anne Tumlinson, an expert on ageing, would like to see care homes become less “custodial” and more enthusiastic about “making people happy”.

A better system would make it easier for most people to age at home. Technology could help. The urge to move someone to a care home often starts with concerns for their safety. Care-givers begin to spot unexplained bumps and bruises. Questions about cigarette burns on the duvet are waved away. Pills are not taken. The milk is always off.

Now imagine a home where sensors keep an eye on all of those things. They spot a change in gait, appetite or activity early enough to predict a fall, dehydration or depression. A smart pill dispenser helps with medication. A companion robot provides reassurance, information, brain training and company. Some of the most compelling recent scientific and technological developments aim to help people with dementia. A product produced by Elovee, an American startup, allows them to have simple conversations with a digital avatar styled to look and sound like one of their relatives. The idea is to provide reassurance during moments of anxiety or boredom that occur when their loved ones are not around.

Technology “will never replace the loving attention of a carer,” says Wilco Achterberg of the University of Leiden. But data-crunching could make it easier to work out how to deploy carers more efficiently. Video calling is making it easier for relatives, paid carers and doctors to check in more frequently. Joan Gallimore, a 91-year-old who lives alone in England, says that calling her family using a tablet her home-carers gave her when lockdowns began has been a revelation. She has enjoyed chats with her granddaughters and performances put on by her son-in-law, who is learning to play a ukulele.

Improving conventional ways of providing care at home is essential, too. Buurtzorg, a nursing provider in the Netherlands, champions a model that has been tried out in 25 countries. Its secret is simple, says Jos de Blok, its founder: let nurses do their jobs. Small teams of them are given considerable autonomy to care for a neighbourhood. By stripping away bureaucracy, the model allows nurses to spend more time dispensing help. Because all staff are qualified nurses, their salaries are higher than traditional carers. But because they are better trained they can get as much done despite spending a third less time with each patient.

For some people, particularly the very lonely and those with dementia, home visits are not enough. Day-care centres can help them. Some of those in Switzerland pick people up from their homes, help them get dressed and return them home at the end of the day. In Sweden day care for the elderly is offered by the state, in much the same way as child care is. Chile has only a small formal care sector, but its government has decided to make day care for the elderly a priority.

Day-care services can improve older people’s mental and physical health. They also provide advice and respite for their families. In rich countries more than one in eight people aged over 50 provide care to another person at least once a week. Keeping them from burning out is key to helping people age at home. More support for these carers also helps reduce the risk that their own health will decline, and makes it less likely that they will drop out of the workforce. In America 48% of people who provide help to older adults care for someone with dementia (a quarter of those people have at least one child under the age of 18 to look after as well). Of those who previously had jobs, 18% moved from full- to part-time work when called upon to help. Some 16% took a leave of absence and 9% quit altogether.

Some old people will have to move out of unsuitable homes. But most need not move to an institution, even then. Denmark is a leader in providing alternatives. Its government spends more on non-residential care than the residential sort. Options for ageing Danes include retirement communities and flats built close to but not in care homes. Authorities in some other places are trying to make it easier for families to build annexes that old relatives can move into. Students and some other youngsters in the Netherlands are encouraged to share courtyards or buildings with elderly people who are not part of their family, sometimes in exchange for cheaper rent. The idea is that they will provide them with companionship and occasional help.

Daan Livestro, a consultant at Gupta Strategists, estimates that 25-60% of care given to elderly people in Dutch institutions could be provided at home. In Canada, too, some 40% of residents could go home if given the right support, according to recent research. A study in 2014 in Alabama found that people with similar needs fared about as well in their own houses as those who stayed in care homes. But the group receiving care at home saved $4,500 per year in costs. “Decanting nursing homes” is a growing opportunity, says Zayna Khayat of SE Health, a Canadian care provider.

There will always be people who want or need residential care. In those cases “smaller is often better”, says Dr Grabowski. Research shows that smaller nursing homes use fewer restraints, see fewer infections and have more satisfied residents than larger ones. Small institutions promote closer friendships between residents and closer connections with staff.

In Tupelo, Mississippi, residents of the Green House wake up to the smell of bacon, cinnamon and fresh coffee. The constant smell of baked goods in the open kitchen is deliberate; declining appetite can be a problem in old age. “I’ve seen people come from traditional nursing homes and they start eating again, they start walking again and they start talking again,” says Steve McAlilly, one of the founders. The Green House consists of ten homes, each with 10-12 housemates. There are no vinyl floors, no dinners on trays and no bingo. “Do you have planned activities in your home?” asks Mr McAlilly. “If it isn’t in a home it isn’t in a Green House.” Bill Thomas, an American geriatrician who founded the Green House movement in 2003, calls himself a “nursing home abolitionist” and says he is guided by two principles: “It is better to live in a house than a warehouse,” and “People should be the boss of their own lives.” Care homes that follow the Green House model now exist in more than 30 American states.

A room with a view

The Hogeweyk in the Netherlands is sometimes called a “dementia village”. It hosts 169 residents who live in six-bedroom houses. All have advanced dementia. They move around freely on a campus that includes a high street with a pub, a hairdresser and a supermarket. Residents may bring their own furniture and pets. They help with household chores. Twenty-five social clubs organise activities. “Almost nobody wants to be a passive recipient of care,” says Eloy van Hal, its founder. Twenty years ago, when he tore down the conventional nursing home that used to inhabit the same spot, he was warned that “people will fall over.” Instead residents became healthier and more cheerful. “We take far too few risks in life,” he says.

Technology could help improve residential care, even as it reduces the number of people who need it. Sensors placed in nursing homes in Norway and the Netherlands have reduced hospitalisations. Telemedicine is having the same effect in Estonia and Israel.

In southern Tokyo, in a bland conference room on the tenth floor of a grey office tower, a robot glides towards visitors and announces: “The food you ordered has arrived.” The Future Care Lab was set up by Sompo, one of Japan’s largest insurers. It has experimented with labour-saving devices such as a self-cleaning bath and a wheelchair that turns into a bed. It has also invented a pad that when placed under a mattress monitors breathing, heart rate and quality of sleep. A nursing home that tested it last year said that it reduced the time staff had to spend “patrolling” its 54 rooms from seven hours a day to 20 minutes. Residents slept better because staff no longer routinely woke them up.

Improving care will not be cheap. But settling for bad care only stores up costs for later. Research in America links a 10% cut in Medicaid reimbursement to a nearly 10% decline in older people’s ability to do things such as walk and bathe, as well as a 5% increase in persistent pain. Each month the health system in Britain loses about 83,000 hospital days to “bed-blocking” that results when elderly patients who are no longer sick enough to remain in hospital get stuck there because no good care is available outside of it.

Governments could make more use of personal-care budgets. These are pots of money allocated to someone who needs support. Recipients are entitled to decide for themselves how the cash should be spent. That encourages care providers to dream up ever more personalised services and to keep down costs. Training, recruiting and trying harder to retain carers are also urgent priorities. The number of care workers in rich countries will need to increase by 60% by 2040 just to maintain the present ratio of carers to elderly people, says the OECD (see chart 2). Investments in technology and more efficient use of skilled staff could at best meet half that gap.

Experts are hopeful. “I’ve been preaching this stuff for decades and nobody ever wanted to hear it. Then covid hit and my phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” says Ms Tumlinson. The pandemic is persuading more people that “the mass institutionalisation of older people isn’t such a good idea,” reckons Mr Thomas of the Green House Project. Social care has never enjoyed so much attention, agrees José Luis Fernández of the London School of Economics. But he worries that governments “will struggle to fund new commitments at a time when public finances are under huge pressure.” There have been lots of broken promises in the past.

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “No place like home”

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Lockdowns could have long-term effects on children’s health

Sitting at home playing video games and eating crisps is not good for them


THIS MAY seem a foolish time to stage a gigantic volleyball tournament in Florida, a covid-19 hotspot. Yet this week several thousand young athletes turned up in Orlando to smash balls back and forth over a net. At least they will get some exercise. Many of their peers will not.

The pandemic is harming children’s health. Not that they are dying in large numbers of the virus itself, which seems to affect them only mildly. And not only because of a growing body of evidence suggesting that lockdowns harm their mental health. It is also because life under confinement in rich countries has been making children fatter and more sedentary. These effects may well last much longer than the restrictions designed to curb the disease.

Research on children’s behaviour during these strange times is of course in its infancy. But early-stage data suggest that their diet has changed. A new study in Obesity, a science journal, looked at already overweight youngsters who were confined to their apartments in Verona, Italy, during the coronavirus outbreak. It found that although the children’s intake of fruit and vegetables was unchanged, within three weeks they were consuming considerably more crisps, sugary drinks and red meat. The researchers found they were sitting down, on average, to one extra meal every day.

One reason for this is that they spent more time gawping at their phones, televisions and computers. Screen time among the Obesity survey sample increased by close to five hours a day. That not only means more time spent sedentary, but is also linked to higher consumption of unhealthy foods. Partly, this is because staring at a device presents an opportunity to snack, says Myles Faith of the University of Buffalo, one of the report’s authors. But children are also bombarded with marketing for junk food. As fast food and sugary drinks are known to be addictive, their appetite for such fare is likely to continue when lockdown ends.

Sloth can become a habit, too. According to a study by the University of Wisconsin, during the pandemic American children over the age of ten have engaged in 50% less physical activity. Younger children who spend more of their time staring at a screen than running around (or vice versa) tend to carry that behaviour into adolescence, says Anthony Okely of the University of Wollongong in Australia. Lack of sleep is another problem, he says. Children have spent on average half an hour less in the land of nod while under confinement, he reckons. Worse, their sleep patterns have changed. Locked-down kids are going to bed much later (and lying in a little longer). Such behaviour is associated with poorer cognition and self-regulation. It may also increase a child’s weight.

All of these effects can be traced, in part, to schools being closed. School not only gives structure to pupils’ lives, affording them less time to stare at a phone, spacing out their meals and prompting them to go to bed earlier. It also forces them to move around more. Break-time kickabouts and games lessons help hugely. Even the physical act of going to school—the walk to the bus stop or the cycle ride to class—adds to youngsters’ daily exercise. But even when schools reopen, many of these health benefits may remain lost, at least for a while. Parents worried about germs on public transport will be more likely to drive their offspring to school. At break, social distancing will be the rule. After-school athletics clubs will hardly be a priority.

Indeed, organised youth sport has been another casualty of the pandemic. Children who play sport are less likely to be obese, to smoke or to take drugs, says Jon Solomon of the Aspen Institute, a Washington think-tank. They also tend to get higher grades and, eventually, better-paid jobs, even after controlling for family income. All this is associated with better long-term health. Yet after just two months of anti-coronavirus measures, nearly a fifth of American kids have lost interest in playing sport, according to a survey by an Aspen division called Project Play. Something similar seems to happening elsewhere, too. New Zealand was one of the first countries to leave lockdown, and has also lifted nearly all covid restrictions. Even so, registrations for organised rugby in the 5-13 age group are down by around a fifth from last year. The number of players is expected to rise as the season progresses, says Steve Lancaster, head of participation and development at New Zealand Rugby. But being a “close proximity sport” probably counts against it, he thinks. Social distancing in a scrum is impossible.

In all of this, it seems that hard-up kids will suffer most. They are more likely to rely on schools for nutritious meals. They are also less likely to have the space at home in which to exercise. And as their neighbourhoods tend to be more dangerous, playing outside is less appealing, says Mr Okely.

That means organised sport should play a bigger role. Yet according to Aspen’s survey, although 60% of parents who earn over $100,000 say their kids will resume sports at the same or higher level once pandemic restrictions are lifted, only 44% of those earning under $50,000 say the same. Furthermore, because ethnic minorities in America appear to be at greater risk from the virus, black and Asian parents are more fearful that their children will fall ill while playing sport. They are correspondingly less likely to say their kids will resume activity once the pandemic passes, says Mr Solomon.

Back in Florida, one hopes that the young volleyballers come away with nothing worse than the odd twisted ankle or pulled muscle. For many children elsewhere, the effects of 2020’s confinement may last for years.

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School closures in poor countries could be devastating

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

SUHANI, WHO is nine years old, wakes each day before dawn. She collects flowers to weave into necklaces which she flogs to drivers stuck in Dhaka’s endless traffic jams. Until recently Suhani and her sister spent their days in a crowded classroom in Nimtoli, a slum in Bangladesh’s capital. When the country locked down to stop the spread of covid-19 their mother, a single parent, lost her job as a maid. She has been out of work since. Schools remain closed. Even if they were open, Suhani could not go. She is the breadwinner now.

Of the 1.5bn children forced out of school by lockdowns around the globe, 700m are in developing countries. Like pupils in rich countries, their education is suffering. But the consequences in poor places will be far worse. Before the pandemic, more children were in school than ever before, according to Robert Jenkins, head of education at of Unicef, the United Nations’ children’s fund. In its aftermath nearly 10m children in 40 countries might never return to formal education, estimates Save the Children, a charity.

The economic impact of the pandemic has forced many to abandon their studies in favour of work. Between 2000 and 2020 the number of children in work around the world fell by 40%, mostly because more were going to school. Covid-19 is undoing that progress. In the Democratic Republic of Congo growing numbers are helping their parents in mines, says Stephanie Shumsky of Pact, an aid group. Others are being recruited into militias. In Jordan young Syrian refugees are toiling on farms.

Experts are most worried about the effect on girls. In the handful of places that have reopened schools, such as Vietnam and the Ivory Coast, teachers say girls are notably absent. Some are getting married—or being married off. Snehalaya, an Indian NGO, says its emergency hotline has been inundated with reports of this since schools closed in March. Handing a daughter over to a new husband means one fewer mouth to feed. With schools closed, idle daughters may strike up a romance or fall prey to sexual assault. Working parents forced to leave their daughters at home all day alone would rather marry them off than risk the shame of premarital sex, says Girish Kulkarni, Snehalaya’s founder.

Others are falling pregnant, some after being raped by relatives or neighbours while quarantined at home, says Alice Albright of the Global Partnership for Education, an umbrella group based in Washington, DC. While schools are closed girls are no longer in touch with teachers who might help them in such circumstances. During the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone in 2014, when schools were also closed, teenage pregnancies rose by between 11% and 65%, according to a variety of studies. Extrapolating from these data, researchers at Save the Children think they could rise by 25% as a result of covid-19.

The economic damage from children dropping out of school will be vast. The World Bank estimates that, if schools remain closed for five months, pupils will forgo $10trn of future earnings in today’s money. That could rise if covid-19 is not curbed and schools stay closed for longer.

Many governments are finding it hard to get children learning again. Poorer countries face obvious disadvantages in teaching lessons remotely. In some places access to the internet is patchy. In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, 87% of children can get online, says Nadia Fairuza of the Centre for Indonesian Policy Studies, a think-tank, but in Papua, Indonesia’s biggest province, the figure is less than 30%.

Thus the pandemic is widening the pre-existing gap between how much rich and poor children learn. A survey last month by Datafolha, a pollster, revealed that while 74% of pupils in Brazil are participating in some kind of distance learning, often over WhatsApp, that drops to just 52% in the poor Amazonian north. There is a similar disparity between the (poor) north and (richer) south in Nigeria, says Emeka Nwajiuba, the country’s education minister. Families sometimes respond to scarcity in ways that disadvantage girls. Parents often give the family’s only phone to their son, not their daughter, he points out.

Many parents and students are being asked to do the impossible. Francis Aruo, a 32-year-old father of five from Rumuruti, a small town in central Kenya, was told to buy a computer by his children’s headmaster. It would cost more than three times his savings. Even if he could afford the computer, a reliable internet connection is not readily accessible in Rumuruti. Mr Aruo can just about afford enough data to run WhatsApp on his phone; he cannot afford enough to download lessons. Femi Odunsi, a secondary-school teacher in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, was trained by the state government to teach online. But few of his students have computers and those who have smartphones cannot afford data. In Bangladesh the main remote learning is through programmes broadcast on state-run television. But only 44% of children have access to a television, according to BRAC, a big charity.

Some governments have failed even to try to help children learn from home (see map). Others have been slow to get going. Ghana’s government only launched its distance learning radio programme on June 15th, three months after schools closed.

Reopening schools is hard, too. In June only about half of poor countries said they had a plan for doing so, according to a survey by the UN and World Bank. Social distancing is tricky where 50 or 60 pupils are often packed into a single classroom. In sub-Saharan Africa less than 30% of schools have handwashing facilities.

Governments are opening many other things before schools. In Kenya revellers can hit the pub for a beer and some nyama choma (grilled meat), but the government says schools will stay closed until 2021. In Pakistan the government has allowed madrassas, run by powerful religious groups, to open, but not mainstream institutions. Garment factories opened in Bangladesh more than two months ago, but schools remain closed. Schoolchildren and their parents lack the political clout of factory owners—or indeed, teachers’ unions, which typically resist a return to work. They cite the health risks, which are real. Since South Africa’s schools opened partially on June 8th, nearly 800 schools have had cases of covid-19. But teachers’ unions have also made unreasonable demands. SADTU, the biggest, opposes some provinces opening schools before others: ie, it wants all to hang back with the slowest.

Getting schools up and running will require money, which is tight. Just 8% of the poorest countries report that they are recruiting new teachers to help with reopening, compared with almost 40% of rich ones, according to the same survey by the UN and World Bank. Cash-strapped governments are more worried about boosting their already overstretched health systems. In Bangladesh’s new budget, announced last month, the amount allocated to education was unchanged as a share of GDP.

Still, some governments are making progress. Education ministries in Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent and Grenadines in the eastern Caribbean are working with private telecoms providers to roll out free internet for students and distribute mobile devices to the poorest. Rwanda hopes that an offer of free lunches will get children back to school. Mozambique is giving girls sanitary products. Even handing out snacks or pencils can make a difference.

Old-school learning

Experience helps. Sierra Leone used radio programming during the country’s Ebola outbreak in 2014. It was easy to reboot it, says David Moinina Sengeh, the country’s education minister. Preparation for schools to reopen started before they even shut. Mr Sengeh enlisted an army of bus drivers to ferry children, whose families had moved during lockdown, back to the villages and towns their schools were in.

He also rushed to overturn a law banning pregnant girls from going to school, offering incentives to teenage mothers to return to their studies and adding sex education classes to lessons broadcast by radio to reduce the likelihood of girls getting pregnant. Mr Sengeh sees the pandemic as an opportunity to ensure that everyone, everywhere, gets a good education. Covid-19 has given the government the “oomph” it needs to make it happen, he says. Others could learn from him.

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “Won’t know much about history”

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As schools reopen, how can pupils make up for lost time?

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

LAST YEAR Kiana Jones took a summer job at a trampoline park, supervising birthday parties and keeping an eye out for overzealous bouncers. This season Ms Jones, an undergraduate in Tennessee, is spending seven weeks in a community centre drilling children in reading and maths. She is one of around 600 locals swiftly assembled by the Tennessee Tutoring Corps, a charity set up in May by a former state governor to help children who have missed months of school. It will pay each tutor $1,000, more than many had expected to make during a summer overshadowed by the pandemic.

The efforts of those such as Ms Jones are a rare bright spot in America’s scholastic landscape. The government has largely failed to control the pandemic. Schools have largely stayed closed. President Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, have threatened to defund schools that refuse to reopen. Those that do welcome back children in the autumn may have to rely on rota systems that allow pupils to attend in person only part-time.

In other parts of the rich world, however, children are already coming back. In countries such as France, Denmark and New Zealand social-distancing rules have been relaxed to allow most children to return to classes every day. Schoolchildren in England will return full-time from September, the British government says. But getting children back into classrooms is only the first step in repairing the damage the pandemic has done to their learning. Educators must now work out how to make up for lost time.

The challenge is huge. Lessons from the year now ending remain untaught. When children spend any significant time out of school (including normal summer holidays), they tend to forget some of what they have already learnt. Analysts at NWEA, an American test-provider, reckon that by autumn some children will be a year behind in maths.

Poor children will suffer most. Many were some way behind their peers before the pandemic. Some American classrooms included pupils whose true learning levels spanned seven grades, according to NWEA. This gap has only widened as children have missed months of school, making teachers’ jobs even harder.

Guidance produced by UNESCO and McKinsey, a consultancy, identifies three types of catch-up strategies. Schools can give children more time. They can adjust their curriculums. Or they can try to improve the quality of their instruction. The greatest success will probably come from a combination of all three.

Some countries have already tinkered with timetables. Singapore pulled forward its month-long annual recess—usually in June—to May, when the country’s lockdown was already keeping schools shut. In some parts of Vietnam schools have crunched the usual three-month break down to a few weeks.

Others are expanding existing summer programmes. New York City is requiring about 100,000 students to enroll in online summer schools, twice as many as last year. The difficulty is that children often fail to turn up to real summer schools frequently enough to benefit from them. It is even harder to ensure they attend lessons conducted online.

Squeezing curriculums to create more time for the most important subjects is less painful than it sounds. Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, says that politicians have long found it easy to add fashionable new topics but more difficult to take things away. As a result, he continues, syllabuses have become “a mile wide but only an inch deep”. David Steiner of Johns Hopkins University says much of American pupils’ time is wasted on material that is less challenging than it should be.

Experts are most enthusiastic about using tutors to help children catch up. The British government has put aside £350m ($439m) to launch a national tutoring programme in September. Schools can use existing organisations or hire graduates who would work full time. They can top this up with money from another pot of £650m that schools can use for any remediation strategies they deem helpful. The Dutch government has earmarked €244m ($277m) for a similar programme. It plans to enlist trainee teachers to help bring struggling learners up to scratch.

Robert Slavin, director of the Centre for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University, would like America to mount a federally funded tutoring programme. Trained graduates could be deployed in teams to each American school, beginning with those whose students have been worst affected by the closures. They could teach pupils one-to-one or in small groups. A few American politicians like the idea but the government has shown no interest in doing anything on this scale. Tutoring jobs would be welcomed by graduates entering a terrible market, reckons Matthew Kraft of Brown University. Getting large numbers of graduates to work as tutors might help to reduce teacher shortages by encouraging more youngsters to consider teaching as a career.

Schools will have to work hard to ensure that everyone gets the help they need. A survey carried out in early May by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a British think-tank, found that poorer parents were less inclined than rich ones to send their children back to school as soon as it is allowed. An American poll found that black and Hispanic parents are much less likely than white ones to consider classrooms safe.

Ultimately no child will learn anything “unless they feel psychologically and emotionally safe”, says Pasi Sahlberg of the University of New South Wales in Australia. When schools reopen, he reckons, they will need to provide children with counselling and time to play as they adjust to their return. Tute Porter-Samuels, a primary-school teacher in New Zealand, says that when her school in Wellington reopened it devoted two weeks to music and art.

Still, there are grounds for optimism. Home schooling has introduced parents to the horrors of trying to educate their children while holding down a job. But it has also made parents more sympathetic to teachers, says Odile Cordelier, a teacher in the French city of Dijon.

Distance-learning, despite its glitches, has made teachers more familiar with technology. Recessions may force governments to trim school budgets but they may also get some new blood into the teaching profession. In Britain applications to teacher-training programmes surged in May and June. A recent study found that teachers in Florida who started their careers in downturns were better at raising test scores than those who did not. Schools will need all the help they can get.

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “A class apart”

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KiKi Layne Is Bringing Blackness To Blockbusters, And It Begins With The Old Guard

When KiKi Layne was cast as Tish Rivers, a lead character in Barry Jenkins’s quietly profound indie drama If Beale Street Could Talk, the choice may have been a mystery to some. Then a relatively little-known, 26-year-old actress who had spent her post-graduate years working the Chicago theater circuit, she beat out over 300 other hopeful performers for a part that, as the followup to Jenkins’s best picture-winning Moonlight, couldn’t have been more desirable. Yet there she was, with the opportunity of a lifetime, wowing audiences with her tender film debut in the lush adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel about race, family, and dreams, which went on to receive its own roster of accolades. But Layne is eager to surprise, and she has dedicated her rising career to, as she puts it, “breaking out of the boxes.”

In her latest role, she’s taking that mission a step further. At 28, Layne makes her action debut in Netflix’s The Old Guard, a new film based on the comic book series by Greg Rucka, who also wrote the screenplay. In stark contrast to her soft, steadfast performance as Rivers, she plays Nile Freeman, a brazen Marine from a military family, who is stationed in Afghanistan when she is, rather forcefully, awoken to the fact that she is all but immortal. She joins a roving troupe of undying mercenaries — they retain their youth and typically heal spontaneously from otherwise fatal wounds, though technically, they can die eventually. Led by Charlize Theron’s Andy, or Andromache of Scythia, whose ass-kicking adventures apparently date back to Homeric times, the group utilizes their supernatural gifts to turn the tides of history’s biggest battles and movements. Be they good or evil? Well, according to one member of the cohort, Joe (Marwan Kenzari), that “depends on the century.”

In many ways, the film is dictated by the constraints of its genre; in others, it breaks free. There’s no shortage of dizzying battle scenes, gunfire, and extravagant choreography featuring a seemingly endless treasury of weapons, as the warriors leave trails of bodies wherever they go (a point of contention for newcomer Nile). But helmed by director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees), a longtime champion of diversity in cinema, those scenes are balanced with moments of real humanization. Joe plainly and openly discusses his relationship with Nicky (Luca Marinelli), whom he met while fighting on opposite sides in the Crusades; and for her part, Layne plays up the painful sense of existential dread felt by Nile, as she realizes her eternal future means she must leave behind those she cherishes most.

This depth of characterization is rarely, if ever, seen in blockbusters, making the project particularly interesting to Layne; it’s yet another breaking out of the box, one that would compartmentalize her work to moody dramas. She’ll further dismiss that notion in her inaugural comedy turn in the forthcoming Coming to America sequel. As for a Black actress leading such a film? That is in itself a challenge to the old guard of Hollywood, which regularly places white men at the forefront of major action movies. But for Layne, it is a necessary effort in placing Black women into the mainstream cinematic canon: “These types of kick-ass, strong, heroic, Black women exist,” she says. “It’s about time that Hollywood shows that in film.” What boxes will she break free from next? She tells MTV News, below.

Aimee Spinks/Netflix

MTV News: You had such an amazing starring role in If Beale Street Could Talk. But your role in The Old Guard is quite different and new for you. What about the project appealed to you?

KiKi Layne: The very first thing that got me interested in the project was the opportunity to work with Gina [Prince-Bythewood]. But I’ve always wanted to do action films, so I was excited to jump into action and accomplish that goal and dream. What’s special about this world is that, although we see these people with this really extraordinary gift, we also see them struggling with very human things that we all can relate to, grief and loss and loneliness. There was an opportunity to bring a sense of vulnerability and depth that we don’t always see in action films.

MTV News: Are there any kinds of roles or scripts that you gravitate towards?

Layne: I love to play in all different types of worlds and roles, but the ultimate goal that I have for myself and my career is to be able to step into roles and worlds where, historically, Hollywood has left Black actresses out of the conversation. For me, that’s about really breaking through walls and barriers that Black actresses have come up against, and breaking out of the boxes that we’ve been put into. I’m hopeful that, at the end of my career, wherever it takes me, there’s a lot of variety.

MTV News: Are there any ways that you relate to the character of Nile? She’s this badass ex-marine, who is now central to this new group of immortals. 

Layne: I always have to find things that I relate to and understand in the characters that I play; otherwise, it won’t feel that authentic. With Nile, one thing that I tapped into immediately was her sense of faith. And also, her love of her family, which becomes one of the things that makes what’s happening to her even more difficult. She’s put in this position where she has to, essentially, turn her back on all of her loved ones.

MTV News: Your team had to do a ton of stunt training to prepare for the role. Could you tell me a little bit about that? Were there any especially difficult moments for you in making this movie?

Layne: It definitely was the most physically demanding thing that I’ve ever done. Just being in the gym that much, building strength and muscle, just to even be able to handle all of the stunts and choreography. And then working with weapons for the very first time, and boxing, which is actually a lot of fun. There were definitely some days where it kicked my ass, but it’s cool because you actually are picking up these skills. If you’re learning it for a character it’s like, I, KiKi Layne, am actually learning how to load and reload this gun.

MTV News: You were also working alongside a pretty seasoned action star in Charlize Theron. Was the rest of the cast able to help you out along the way?

Layne: Oh, definitely. Just working alongside Charlize, who has such a command and knowledge of the genre, was so dope. Charlize has been such a huge part of showing what women are capable of in this genre, so just being able to be on set with her and learn from watching her commitment to doing as much of the choreography and stunts as she could.

Aimee Spinks/Netflix

MTV News: You mentioned that you were excited to work with Gina Prince-Bythewood, and this was a big moment for her, as well, because this was the first major comic-book movie helmed by a Black woman. What was it like working together? 

Layne: What I really enjoyed the most about working with Gina on this project, and it was something that she made clear to me from the first time we talked, was her commitment to really digging into the heart of these characters — how and why they got to wherever they are when we first meet them in the film. She made space for that type of vulnerability and depth in an action film, and sometimes that gets lost in these films. It becomes about all the blowing things up and shooting up people and kicking ass. So, it was really dope to have Gina encouraging us to lean into those deeper emotions. Like, these characters are immortal, but they still are struggling with loss and grief and loneliness.

MTV News: Have you been a fan of science fiction and action movies your whole life?

Layne: Absolutely! I love the Avengers movies. Those are definitely some of my favorites. I watched the Bourne trilogy a lot. I have two brothers, so I was always watching all of that stuff. I enjoy it just as much, too.

MTV News: Do you ever see yourself playing a Marvel superhero?

Layne: I would love to. As a Black woman, leading one of those films would be amazing, just because it hasn’t happened yet. Hollywood is slow on a lot of things when it comes to representation. These types of kick-ass, strong, heroic, Black women exist. It’s about time that Hollywood shows that in film. I’m glad that I could be a part of a step in the right direction of doing that. I’m hoping that it gets to a point where it’s not such a big conversation point, the fact that this is a female-led action film directed by a Black woman. We are just as capable. That’s the thing: We are just as capable of leading on-screen and behind the camera. It needs to happen more.

MTV News: Even though this is a sci-fi movie, it tackles some real topics, as you’ve said. The big villain isn’t some superpowered alien but this smarmy, billionaire, pharmaceutical executive. Why do you think sci-fi is an appropriate medium for telling real-life, even political, narratives? 

Layne: Sometimes, it’s easier for us to digest that type of realness when it’s wrapped up in a bit of fantasy. You’re absorbing the real circumstances that are being touched on, but you’re not necessarily being beaten over the head with it.

MTV News: Is there a key message that you hope viewers will take away from seeing The Old Guard?

Layne: How the film is speaking to me now, under the circumstances of everything going on in the world, is with this question: What are we doing with the time that we have been given? Seeing these characters who have been alive for so long, even they’re still asking themselves that question. How am I using this time? Is it of any greater value or help? With everything going on right now, I think we are all feeling called to think more on what it is we’re doing with this time.


MTV News: Have there been any moments where you really felt represented on-screen?

Layne: What’s wonderful about what’s happening right now in Hollywood is, I feel, a lot more Black artists and underrepresented artists are taking matters more into our own hands and creating the type of work that really speaks to us. I’m very grateful for things like Black Panther, Get Out, Insecure, and Atlanta. There’s definitely a lot more than when I was growing up in terms of seeing more authentic and varied representations of Black people and Black life.

MTV News: Would you want to live forever?

Layne: Oh my goodness, no. The film really shows the two sides of immortality. On one hand, it’s a blessing, in terms of what you’re able to do if you are committed to serving the greater good and taking these risks that mortal people could not in order to create positive change in the world. But on the other side of that, it comes at a very personal cost. For me, I’m so close to my family, I couldn’t imagine being here with none of them. I feel like I could do it for maybe a couple hundred years, do some really cool stuff that really lays the groundwork for some positive change.

Enlightenment liberalism is losing ground in the debate about race

LIBERALISM—the Enlightenment philosophy, not the American left—starts with the assertion that all human beings have equal moral worth. From that stem equal rights for all. Libertarians see those principles as paramount. For left-leaning liberals, equal moral worth also brings an entitlement to the resources necessary for an individual to flourish.

Yet when it comes to race many liberals have failed to live up to their own values. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776, “that all men are created equal.” More than a decade later the Founding Fathers would write into the country’s constitution that a slave was in fact to be considered three-fifths of a person. In Europe many liberals opposed slavery but supported despotic imperial rule overseas. “Perhaps liberal theory and liberal history are ships passing in the night,” speculated Uday Singh Mehta of the City University of New York in 1999.

What lies behind this failure? That question is especially important today. Norms are shifting fast. The global protests that sprang up after the killing of George Floyd denounced racism throughout society. Companies, often pressed by their own employees, are in a panic about their lack of diversity, particularly at the top. Television stations and the press are rewriting the rules about how news should be covered and by whom. There is a fight over statuary and heritage, just as there is over people forced out of their jobs or publicly shamed for words or deeds deemed racist.

It is a defining moment. At Mr Floyd’s funeral, the Rev Al Sharpton declared: “It’s time to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks.’” At Mount Rushmore on July 3rd, President Donald Trump condemned “a new far-left fascism”. To understand all this, it is worth going back to the battle of ideas. In one corner is liberalism, with its tarnished record, and in the other the anti-liberal theories emerging from the campus to challenge it.

During the past two centuries life in the broadest terms has been transformed. Life expectancy, material wealth, poverty, literacy, civil rights and the rule of law have changed beyond recognition. Though that is not all thanks to Enlightenment liberals, obviously, liberalism has prospered as Marxism and fascism have failed.

But its poor record on race, especially with regard to African-Americans, stands out. Income, wealth, education and incarceration remain correlated with ethnicity to a staggering degree. True, great steps have been taken against overt racial animus. But the lack of progress means liberals must have either tried and failed to create a society in which people of all races can flourish, or failed to try at all.

America’s founding depended on two racist endeavours. One was slavery, which lasted for almost 250 years and was followed by nearly a century of institutionalised white supremacy. Of the seven most important Founding Fathers, only John Adams and Alexander Hamilton did not at some point own slaves. Nine early American presidents were slaveholders. And although slavery is a near-universal feature of pre-Enlightenment societies, the Atlantic slave trade is notable for having been tied to notions of racial superiority.

The other was imperialism, when British colonialists violently displaced existing people. Many 18th-century European liberals criticised the search for empire. Adam Smith viewed colonies as expensive failures of monopoly and mercantilism that benefited neither side, calling Britain’s East India Company “plunderers”. Edmund Burke (a liberal in the broadest sense) decried the “outrageous” injustices in British colonies, including “systematick iniquity and oppression” in India, which resulted from power that was unaccountable to those over whom it was exercised.

But, argues Jennifer Pitts of the University of Chicago in her book “A Turn to Empire”, in the 19th century the most famous European liberals gravitated towards “imperial liberalism”. The shift was grounded in the growing triumphalism of France and Britain, which saw themselves as qualified by virtue of their economic and technological success to disseminate universal moral and cultural values. John Stuart Mill abhorred slavery, writing during the American civil war in 1863 that “I cannot look forward with satisfaction to any settlement but complete emancipation.” But of empire he wrote that “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end.” (Mill worked for the East India Company for 35 years.) Alexis de Tocqueville championed the French empire, in particular the violent conquest and settlement of Algeria.

A belief in the basic similarity of human beings, and of their march towards progress, led these thinkers to the belief that it was possible to accelerate development at the barrel of a gun. Even at the time, this paternalism should have been tempered by scepticism about whether it can be just for one people to impose government on another. Although Mill criticised the British empire’s atrocities, he did not see them, as Burke had, as the inevitable consequence of an unaccountable regime.

The turn in liberal thought was reflected in the pages of The Economist. From its founding in 1843 the newspaper opposed slavery, and early in its existence it criticised imperialism. But we later backed the Second Opium War against China, the brutal suppression of the 1857 Indian mutiny and even the invasion of Mexico by France in 1861. We wrote that Indians were “helpless…to restrain their own superstitions and their own passions”. Walter Bagehot, editor from 1861 to 1877, wrote that the British were “the most enterprising, the most successful, and in most respects the best, colonists on the face of the earth”. Although the newspaper never ceased to oppose slavery, it claimed, bizarrely, that abolition would be more likely were the Confederacy to win America’s civil war. It was not until the early 20th century that The Economist regained some of its scepticism regarding empire, as liberalism at home evolved into a force for social reform.

In America the big liberal shift took place in the mid-1960s. To deal with the legacy of slavery, liberals began to concede that you need to treat the descendants of slaves as members of a group, not only as individuals. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, argued that affirmative action, though a breach of liberal individualism that must eventually be dispensed with, had to stay until there was reasonable equality of opportunity between groups.

Plenty of thinkers grappled with affirmative action, including Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a politician, sociologist and diplomat, and Ronald Dworkin, a philosopher and jurist. However, the most famous left-liberal work of the 20th century, written in 1971, was notably silent on race. The key idea of John Rawls’s “A Theory of Justice” is the “veil of ignorance”, behind which people are supposed to think about the design of a fair society without knowing their own talents, class, sex or indeed race. Detached from such arbitrary factors people would discover principles of justice. But what is the point, modern critics ask, of working out what a perfectly just society looks like without considering how the actual world is ravaged by injustice?

Liberalism as it is theorised “abstracts away from social oppression”, writes Charles Mills, also of the City University of New York. The “Cambridge Companion to Rawls”, a roughly 600-page book published in 2002, has no chapter, section or subsection dealing with race. “The central debates in the field as presented”, writes Mr Mills, “exclude any reference to the modern global history of racism versus anti-racism.”

As the gains of the civil-rights era failed to translate into sustained progress for African-Americans, dissatisfaction with liberalism set in. One of the first to respond was Derrick Bell, a legal scholar working at Harvard in the 1970s. “Critical race theory”, which fused French post-modernism with the insights of African-Americans like Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist and former slave, and W.E.B. Du Bois, a sociologist, then emerged.

Critical race theory first focused on the material conditions of black Americans and on developing tools to help them win a fair hearing in the courtroom. One is “intersectionality”, set out in a defining paper in 1991 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, another legal scholar and civil-rights campaigner. A black woman could lose a case of discrimination against an employer who could show that he did not discriminate against black men or white women, she explains. The liberal, supposedly universalist, legal system failed to grasp the unique intersection of being both a woman and black.

In the three decades since that paper was written, critical race theory has flourished, spreading to education, political science, gender studies, history and beyond. HR departments use its terminology. Allusions to “white privilege” and “unconscious bias” are commonplace. Over 1,000 CEOs, including those of firms such as JPMorgan Chase, Pfizer and Walmart, have joined an anti-racism coalition and promised that their staff will undertake unconscious-bias training (the evidence on its efficacy is limited). Critical race theory informs the claim that the aim of journalism is not “objectivity” but “moral clarity”.

More than words can ever say

Yet as critical race theory has grown, a focus on discourse and power has tended to supersede the practicalities. That has made it illiberal, even revolutionary.

The philosophical mechanics that bolt together critical race theory can be obscure. But the approach is elegantly engineered into bestselling books such as “How To Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi and “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo.

One thing that the popular synthesis preserves is its contempt for the liberal view of how to bring about social and moral progress. To understand why, you need to start with how ordinary words take on extraordinary meanings. “Racism” is not bigotry based on the colour of your skin. Races, Mr Kendi writes, “are fundamentally power identities” and racism is the social and institutional system that sustains whites as the most powerful group. That is why “white supremacy” alludes not to skinheads and the Ku Klux Klan, but, as Ms DiAngelo explains, the centrality and superiority of whites in society.

Some acts also have an unfamiliar significance. Talking to someone becomes a question of power. The identity of the speaker matters because speech is not neutral. It is either bad (ie, asserting white supremacy, and thus shoring up today’s racist institutions), or it is good (ie, offering solidarity to victims of oppression or subverting white power). The techniques of subversion, called criticism, unpack speech to reveal how it is “problematic”—that is, the ways in which it is racist.

Speech is unfamiliar in another way, too. When you say something, what counts is not what you mean but how you are heard. A privileged person sees the world from their own viewpoint alone. Whites cannot fully understand the harm they cause. By contrast, the standpoint of someone who is oppressed gives them insight into both their own plight and the oppressor’s world-view, too. “To say that whiteness is a standpoint”, Ms DiAngelo writes, “is to say that a significant aspect of white identity is to see oneself as an individual, outside or innocent of race—‘just human’.”

Black people can also find themselves in the wrong. What if two black people hear a white person differently and disagree over whether he was racist? Critical race theorists might point out that there are many sorts of oppression. In 1990 Angela Harris, a legal scholar, complained that feminism treated black and white women as if their experience were the same. By being straight and male, say, the listener belongs to groups that are dominant along some axis other than race. The way out of oppression is through the recognition and empowerment of these group identities, not their neglect. Or one of them may have failed to grasp the underlying truth of how racism is perpetuated by society. If so, that person needs to be educated out of their ignorance. “The heartbeat of racism is denial,” Mr Kendi writes, “the heartbeat of anti-racism is confession.”

These ideas have revolutionary implications. One result of seeing racism embedded all around you is a tendency towards a pessimistic attitude to progress. Bell concluded that reform happens only when it suits powerful white interests. In 1991 he wrote: “Even those Herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary ‘peaks of progress’, short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as practical patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance.”

The second implication is that well-meaning white people are often enemies. Colour-blind whites deny society’s structural racism. Ms DiAngelo complains that “White people’s moral objection to racism increases their resistance to acknowledging their complicity in it.” Integrationists—Mr Kendi’s term for those who want black culture and society to integrate with white—rob black people of the identity they need to fight racism. He accuses them of “lynching black cultures”.

Where does this leave liberalism? “Cynical Theories”, a forthcoming book by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, two writers, argues that the two systems of thought are incompatible. One reason is that the constellation of postmodern thinking dealing with race, gender, sexuality and disability, which they call “Theory”, disempowers the individual in favour of group identities, claiming that these alignments are necessary to end oppression. Another is Theorists’ belief that power is what forces out entrenched interests. But this carries the risk that the weak will not prevail, or that if they do, one dominant group will be replaced by another. By contrast, liberals rely on evidence, argument and the rule of law to arm the weak against the strong. A third reason is that Theory stalls liberal progress. Without the machinery of individual equality fired up by continual debate, the engine will not work.

No easy answers

But what will? The appeal of critical race theory—or at least its manifestation in popular writing—is partly that it confidently prescribes what should be done to fight injustice. It provides a degree of absolution for those who want to help. White people may never be able to rid themselves of their racism, but they can dedicate themselves to the cause of anti-racism.

Liberals have no such simple prescription. They have always struggled with the idea of power as a lens through which to view the world, notes Michael Freeden of Oxford University. They often deny that groups (rather than individuals) can be legitimate political entities. And so liberal responses to critical race theory can seem like conservative apathy, or even denial.

Tommie Shelby of Harvard University, who sees himself as both a critical race theorist and a liberal, argues that scepticism regarding liberalism’s power to redress racial inequality is “rooted in the mistaken idea that liberalism isn’t compatible with an egalitarian commitment to economic justice.” Mr Shelby has argued that the Rawlsian principle of “fair equality of opportunity” can mean taking great strides towards a racially just society. That includes not just making sure that formal procedures, such as hiring practices, are non-discriminatory. It also includes ensuring that people of equal talent who make comparable efforts end up with similar life prospects, eventually eradicating the legacy of past racial injustices.

This would be a huge programme that might involve curbing housing segregation, making schooling more equal and giving tax credits (see Briefing). That is not enough for Mr Mills, another liberal and critical race theorist. He wants liberal thinkers to produce theories of “rectificatory justice”—say, a version of the veil of ignorance behind which people are aware of discrimination and the legacy of racial hierarchy. Liberals might then be more willing to tolerate compensation for past violations. They might also demand a reckoning with their past failures.

The problem is thorniest for libertarians who resist redistributive egalitarian schemes, regardless of the intention behind them. But even some of the most committed, such as Robert Nozick, concede that their elevation of property rights makes sense only if the initial conditions under which property was acquired were just. Countries in which the legacy of racial oppression lives on in the distribution of wealth patently fail to meet that test. Putting right that failure, Mr Mills says, “should be supported in principle by liberals across the spectrum”.

Plenty of people are trying to work out what that entails, but the practicalities are formidable. Having failed adequately to grapple with racial issues, liberals find themselves in a political moment that demands an agenda which is both practically and politically feasible. The risk is that they do not find one.

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “In the balance”

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Covid-19 is here to stay. The world is working out how to live with it

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

YOU MAY BE exhausted but the covid-19 pandemic is barely getting started. Six months after Chinese scientists notified the World Health Organisation (WHO) of a new virus that caused deadly pneumonia, covid-19—as the disease was later dubbed—has spread to almost every country around the world and killed more than 500,000 people. In London, Madrid and New York deaths this year have been more than twice what they usually are in the same months. It took more than three months for global cases to reach a million; the last million came in less than a week.

Yet even in the countries with the worst outbreaks, just 5-15% of people have been infected. They may be immune to future infections, at least for a while, but with most of the population still susceptible, getting back to life as usual is impossible. The disease would again grow rapidly. Hospitals would soon be overwhelmed. A recent study published in the Lancet, a medical journal, estimates that about 4.5% of people infected by covid-19 globally are likely to become so ill they require hospitalisation. By comparison, less than 8% of Americans have to stay overnight in hospital in any normal year.

A vaccine is the best way out of this. But even the most determined optimists reckon it will be at least January 2021 until one becomes widely available. In the meantime, the world is preparing to cope with covid-19 in the long term. As countries loosen restrictions and open borders, cases are starting to rise again. If left unchecked, they will swell into new waves of infection. All-encompassing national lockdowns would wreck economies. So countries are looking for middle-ground measures that will prevent the disease from overwhelming hospitals while loosening some of the heaviest restrictions. Used together, these measures will probably ward off new waves of infections. Whether governments will choose to implement them—or have the means to do so—and whether people will follow new rules is less certain.

The priority is to shield from infection those who are most likely to become gravely ill. That becomes difficult if large numbers of people are becoming infected. To prevent the virus from spreading uncontrollably, governments are relying on a combination of three key measures: testing and quarantine; changes in behaviour that reduce transmission (which include social distancing, the wearing of masks and handwashing); and targeted lockdowns of outbreak hotspots—a practice known as a “circuit-breaker” that has been popular in East Asian countries thus far and is now being embraced elsewhere.

Whether countries that have got a grip on covid-19 experience new waves of the disease will depend on how people behave and how quickly authorities can detect an increase in cases, says Andrea Ammon of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). If authorities can quickly identify new outbreaks, they will be better able to prevent them from spreading. That means any restrictions imposed in response can be more limited. “What we’ve learned about this virus is that we shouldn’t underestimate even a small outbreak. It can easily be the core of bigger transmission,” says Dr Ammon.

Countries facing their first waves of covid-19 were caught off guard. One of the biggest tragedies was the failure to protect the residents of care homes. They have accounted for about 40% of covid-19 deaths in America and in several other Western countries. Governments are determined to avoid a repeat of this debacle. Infection-prevention measures at care homes are being ramped up, including more testing and greater use of masks by staff and visitors.

Besides the elderly, it is now apparent that people with certain health conditions—including obesity, diabetes and heart disease—are particularly vulnerable. Estimates suggest that 22% of people globally have at least one underlying condition that puts them at high risk if they are infected. In America 38% of adults fall into this category because of their age or health problems; nearly half are of working age.

What are the odds?

Ensuring people understand how to assess their own risk—especially in the event of an outbreak in their area—is crucial. In March Britain’s National Health Service sent letters to some 2.2m people deemed to be at particularly high risk, telling them to avoid going out when the outbreak was at its worst. In future doctors and patient organisations will be more closely involved, advising vulnerable people and their families on how to balance reducing their risk of contracting covid-19 with their need for some degree of social life.

In the early days of the pandemic, almost all countries tried to “test, trace and isolate” those infected in an effort to quarantine them and break chains of transmission. But many governments, such as Britain’s, abandoned this approach when case numbers grew rapidly and they did not have enough testing capacity and staff to do the job. Panicked countries in Europe and elsewhere imposed national lockdowns in an effort to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

But the places that did best in the first months of the pandemic are those that never stopped contact-tracing, says David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. They include countries as varied as South Korea, Denmark, Germany, Vietnam, Uruguay and Rwanda. Many European countries and some American states used their initial lockdowns to expand their testing and contact-tracing systems and build apps that could make it possible to carry out the task more efficiently if there is a second wave.

These improved systems have responded with varying degrees of success. In Spain the health ministry believes it is still only detecting around a third of all cases (which does, however, mark an improvement on its rates of about 10% at the start of the country’s epidemic). Of these, 40% have no known link to other infected people. Public-health professionals say the system needs more staff if it is to function effectively. Contact-tracers in some states in America are reaching fewer than half of those testing positive for covid-19. Apps that notify users about a close contact with an infected person have often proved disappointing. The one in France was downloaded by fewer than 2m people and notified only 14 of them that they had come into close contact with someone infected with covid-19 in the first three weeks.

Some of the governments that scaled up their contact-tracing systems significantly during the outbreak, such as Britain, chose to run them centrally. That proved to be a mistake. Success rates in obtaining details of contacts and getting in touch with people have turned out to be higher when the task is done by local health departments or community organisations. Persuading someone who has just tested positive for covid-19 to hand over the phone numbers of friends, family and co-workers is hard. They are more likely to co-operate if the call requesting such information comes from someone with the dulcet tones of a local.

“Every epidemic is local,” says Madhukar Pai, an epidemiologist at McGill University in Canada, “so a combination of local leadership, local data to track what is happening, and a local army of community health workers and volunteers is absolutely critical to get it under control.” In countries as large as India, he says, the success of different places in keeping covid-19 at bay will vary. Cases of covid-19 in India and deaths from the disease are rising precipitously. But Dharavi, a slum in Mumbai where 850,000 people are packed into 2.5 sq km and as many as 80 people share each toilet, has tamed an outbreak that began in April. Authorities there set up clinics to check people’s temperatures. Health-care workers went door-to-door to screen people for symptoms and moved those who were infected to nearby schools and sports grounds which had been converted to quarantine centres. In the first half of June the slum had only six deaths from the disease, compared with 71 in April and May.

The process of tracing the contacts of those infected with covid-19 has been less smooth in Europe and America. As a result, other measures to curb transmission are even more vital. These include encouraging people to wear face-masks and keep their distance from others (social distancing). Turning these things into social norms, however, has been tricky for a variety of reasons. For one, the official advice on masks in America and Britain, among other countries, changed over time. People were initially discouraged from wearing them, partly for fear that they would run down the scarce supplies for health workers. In America masks are now officially recommended but have become a political statement, with some supporters of President Donald Trump, who refuses to wear a mask, following his lead.

Thanks to studies of outbreaks around the world, it is becoming clearer where social distancing matters most. Covid-19 thrives on close contact. Four things are now known to exacerbate its spread: being at close quarters for a prolonged period of time, in a large crowd, and taking part in activities that lead people to breathe out forcefully (for example singing, shouting and heavy exercise). In combination these create “super-spreading” conditions. Early in the pandemic, at a choir practice near Seattle, one person infected with covid-19 passed it on to more than half of the 61 people in the room, two of whom died.

Such discoveries are helping officials come up with more targeted rules. Conferences and big events are already banned in many places for the foreseeable future. As Britain emerges from its lockdown, weddings are allowed again–but without singing and with no more than 30 people present. Sweden’s drinking holes are allowing table service only, to prevent punters jamming together at the bar. The future of indoor exercise classes looks wobbly.

The extent to which people will comply with rules about wearing masks and on everyday social distancing will depend on how and from whom they get the message. Dr Ammon of the ECDC says that explaining the risks of covid-19 is a challenge for all public-health authorities because they have never had to do it on such a scale. “But we’ve learned from other settings that you need to win over the influencers in certain groups to convey the message in a credible way.” Precisely who those influencers are will vary. The exhortations of online celebrities will carry more weight with young people. Those of imams and priests may convince religious types. But the messaging must start at the top. “Politicians have to convey the message to people that it’s really up to them to decide what’s happening with this pandemic,” continues Dr Ammon. “And in a way empowering them by saying: ‘What you do actually matters’.”

But in many countries, including America, Brazil, Russia and Iran, politicians have lost the trust of their people by contradicting their experts on basic facts about the pandemic, publishing implausible numbers on covid deaths or propagating conspiracy theories.

Pushing people to change their behaviour swiftly is increasingly important in poorer countries with fast-growing epidemics. In India and South Africa shortages of tests—because of crimped global supply—are already rendering contact-tracing less useful. In South Africa, which has largely abandoned tracing, the buzz-phrase among political leaders now is “from anxiety to agency”. Officials are trying to boost adherence to the most basic things to prevent the spread of covid-19, including wearing masks, now compulsory on public transport and in all shops. President Cyril Ramaphosa made a point of (clumsily) putting one on at the end of a televised speech. “We now need to change the mindset of people,” says Salim Abdool Karim, who chairs South Africa’s medical advisory committee on covid-19. “We need each person to see that they have the ability to change, to influence their own risk. That for me is the biggest challenge.”

The worry in poor countries, says Dr Pai, is that such messages may fail to sink in if people see the disease spreading. Already, he says, there are people who think there is no point in wearing a mask because they will get the virus anyway.

It is hard to predict how behaviour will shift in any particular country. Past experience shapes attitudes. Many experts think that levels of compliance with guidelines about masks, quarantine and social distancing in Asian countries are high because people there have painful memories of the SARS epidemics in 2003-04.

But there are signs that in parts of Europe and America that have come through their first big wave of covid-19 people may comply with new rules that will be in place even as restrictions ease. In France President Emmanuel Macron said that even he was surprised by the extent to which his fellow citizens obeyed new rules. During the first few weeks of their lockdown, the French watched as pale-faced doctors emerged, night after night, from emergency wards into television studios to tell the nation that France was at the base of a ghastly wave. Fear, backed up by hefty fines and strict policing, probably contributed to this collective discipline. Although French cafés, museums, beaches and schools have reopened, the country’s earlier experience may explain why rules such as wearing masks on all public transport, in offices and other shared indoor space, are for the most part still being obeyed.

The mood is similar in Spain, which had one of the worst early outbreaks. During its first wave, the country saw at least 28,000 deaths, according to the health ministry. The number of excess deaths was roughly 50,000 compared with previous years. “We can’t lower our guard,” said Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister, on June 20th, as he lifted a 98-day state of emergency. As they contemplate taking longed-for summer holidays, Spaniards are torn between a desire to return to normal and fear of renewed outbreaks. Most now wear face-masks outside. Madrid’s and several other regional governments have provided some masks free of charge through pharmacies; they are easily obtainable in shops.

But even as people take these precautions, they are desperate for life to return to something like normality. Spaniards generally respect social-distancing norms. But on Thursday and Friday evenings the outside terraces of bars throng with mainly mask-less young people. Beaches are open again, though police move in to break up crowds. In Britain partygoers have already been caught at illegal raves. The police and hospitals are bracing themselves as British pubs prepare to open on July 4th. In Berlin, where masks are mandatory in shops and on public transport, the local government imposed fines for non-compliance when numbers wearing them fell.

Cluster headaches

In many European countries new covid-19 cases have crept up as restrictions have eased. So far cases have appeared in clusters, often linked to parties or other celebrations where people have gathered in large numbers. But the biggest clusters have often been among migrant workers. In Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy migrant workers from Africa and eastern Europe often live in cramped accommodation. A lot of them work in food-packing factories—loud places where workers stand close to one another, often yelling to make themselves heard over the clatter of machinery, creating ideal conditions for the virus to spread. Many are not fluent in the local language and so struggle to understand messages about preventing the spread of covid-19 or to get in touch with doctors if they become ill. Public-health authorities are now more aware of the problem and making greater use of translators.

But such outbreaks are being exploited by politicians. On June 29th the leader of Italy’s hard-right Northern League, Matteo Salvini, was forced to abandon a rally at Mondragone near Naples after being drowned out by chanting demonstrators. They were protesting at what they saw as his attempt to capitalise on clashes the previous week between Bulgarian seasonal workers and native Italian residents. Most of the Bulgarians, who gather local harvests, live in a complex of apartment blocks that on June 22nd was returned to lockdown after becoming a hotspot of the virus. Almost 50 residents tested positive and were put into isolation in a nearby hospital. Refusing to accept this renewed confinement, some of the Bulgarians marched through the town, defiantly unmasked, prompting criticism and even attacks by locals. On June 12th, a less visible revolt took place inside a former barracks housing asylum-seekers outside the northern town of Treviso. In both cases, the reason was the same: the immigrants’ fear that they would lose their jobs if they failed to turn up for work.

Such patterns have laid bare one of the gnarliest problems facing all governments. Convincing people to change their behaviour in the ways needed to prevent new waves of covid-19 will rely on people worrying about others as well as themselves. In most places the disease has become one that threatens the elderly, the poor and marginalised minorities. But beating back a virus that has spread around the world with such ferocity will be impossible unless most people play by the rules of the new normal.

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

This article appeared in the International section of the print edition under the headline “The new normal”

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project